I've been on both sides of this permission to hunt thing now. I've been sitting here with this topic trying to organize my thoughts.
If I look back on the efforts I made over the years to get permission, I can see one pattern arising. I got very few permissions from cold calls. I spent a lot of time early on driving around in the country asking, and got very few people to agree to letting me hunt. I was in sales during part of that time, and I doubt it was my style. I think it was more the nature of what I was asking that was the problem. Folks did not know me and I was asking for something that required more. . . intimacy (for lack of a better word) than they were willing to give to a stranger. These were mostly smaller plots, usually less than 50 acres. I was competing with family and friends. Some folk were just against hunting. Some were just wary of a stranger. Some already had it promised to others. This is what salesmen call "qualifying your leads." Most cold calls come to nothing.
When I had success it was from three sources: friends of friends and folks coming to me . . . and that third category, the places I didn't want. More on the first two later.
The OTHER Category
I had several places that came to me way too easy. Each one, it didn't take me long to figure out why. Looking back, I should have seen this coming and stopped roaming the country on weekends much sooner than I did. Getting permission to hunt is a lot like trying to get a date in high school. All the nice girls say no. Then one day you find a girl that is willing and eager to go out with you. She's unattached. You can't believe your luck.
In the most likely case, as with high school dating, you find the willingness extends to everyone that comes up the drive. Everybody gets to come hunt. The farmer sees no problem in having a dozen treestands up on 20 acres. He especially likes bow hunters, because they are less likely to shoot each other. He just likes the company, and the fact that everyone buys from his roadside stand. Yep, been there and done that. This was sort of the state my 200 acre patch was in when we bought it. EVERYBODY knew the place.
Others in the OTHER Category can get downright creepy. I had one place that had an abandoned hunting camp on it, and numerous rotting stands from folks that had spent less than one season and then split. It didn't take long to figure out what was up. The farmer was nuts-- untreated diabetes can bring on strange personality shifts, paranoia and blind rages. He'd already run off all his own family. I was hard up for a place to hunt, and I stuck it out. Shortly after that he started getting treatment, and I held onto the place for several seasons. The abandoned camp always bugged me though-- looked like guys had been eating their dinner and just up and left or. . .
Friends of Friends
This was a group that brought a lot of luck. Hunters don't regularly show up with a resume. However, I had several fellows who spoke well of me to their friends and secured me a place to go and hunt. When it's your hunting buddy speaking for you, you have the extra dynamic of the-buddy-brings-a-buddy-who-brings-a-buddy-who. . . . Landowners generally don't like that. However, if you have an uninterested party making the call for you, it is a good thing. All of my first few hunts came from these sorts of invitations. I'll never forget the elation I felt as I set down a plate of pancakes for a friend on a Sunday morning about this time of year and he told me of a place in Hocking Hills and a buddy of his. Five minutes later my buddy handed the phone to me I was talking to the guy and he was telling me about his place, a 70 acre orchard.
"I can't wait for you to come." said Gordon. "Those turkeys come in the Spring and knock down all the blossoms and then the dang deer come by in the Fall and eat all my apples. You can shoot the whole lot of 'em!"
Landowners on your Doorstep
For a guy who spent the Summer and Winter driving the back roads looking for a place to hunt, it seemed strange to me to have fellows coming to me to offer me a place to hunt. However, I found that as I circulated, there is something attractive about a good stalwart hunter traipsing about a farmer's property. It was all in the marketing. Farmers want responsible people hunting their property. It is in their best interest to have what amounts to an unpaid security guard, keeping off undesirables and reporting on goings-on. As I got a few years into my hunting, I started getting unsolicited offers to hunt. In retrospect, what helped was that I did not have wild stories to tell. I generally bow hunted. I bow hunted alone. When I did show up with a friend, the friends were usually older than I was.
In more than one case, being a bow hunter got me the permission. I provided the pre-season scouting intelligence to the gun hunters of the extended family. My hunting for the season ended the weekend before Opening Day- fine by me, and fine by them. Eventually I got invited on the gun hunts as well.
Another thing that helped in more than one situation was eschewing 22 LR in squirrel hunting. I don't know how many times over the years that landowners specifically asked what I hunted with and breathed a sigh when I said a shotgun. I guess there is nothing in this world like a 22 coming through your window at breakfast to put you off your taste for hunters. Ditto for groundhogs. In my neck of the woods, shooting .223 REM at groundhogs in the summer was also bad Ju-Ju. Farmers associated these practices with slob hunting and slob hunters. I shot squirrel with a 12 GA and groundhogs with a 30-06-- for some reason that made me a more desireable hunter. My reason for including this tip is simply this: find out what the real wants and fears are of these people and play to them. The world will beat a path to your door.
Looking at it from the Other Side
Now that I am a landowner, I can tell you that I am loath to give out letters of permission lightly. I've posted my travails here previously. Nearly every letter I've written, I've come to regret later. I have promised a letter to one fellow for next deer season. I know him from my son's pipe band. We have talked for hours about rifles and shotguns and hunting. He's recently moved from California and has no hunting friends or places to hunt. He seems like the sort of fellow I will still know in ten years. He asked. I said yes without thinking. If he'd schmoozed me, or kept looking for an angle, or any of that sort of thing I'd
probably have gotten hinky.
Other big real-life turn-offs from my career as a landowner:
"You should meet my friend, he hunts too. I'm sure you'd like him."
"I can't wait for you to meet all my friends. I'm sure you're going to like them."
"What do you like? Scotch? Bourbon? I've got a bottle with your name on it."
"I was just hoping you'd give me a letter, because I've been hunting this place for xx years and . . ."
"I was like. . . lost. . . and . . . can I have permission to hunt here?" KYHillChick got this one as she helped a fellow find the fence he'd just crossed.
Shouted from the truck, window rolled down, "Can we all hunt here?"
"Do YOU have permission to hunt?" (The fellow intimating that I was a trespasser.)
" X said it was okay if we hunted here." Delivered over the shoulder as the hunter was unloading his ATV. I did not know the guy, nor X.
The first rifle opener on our new place, I was tempted to put my buddy Bob out by the dairy barn in a clown suit with a sign that read: "Day Leases Available: $200/half day" -- with a promise he could keep half of whatever we made. You should have seen the cars trying to park in our aprons that year. As it was, I just put a chain across the road and put a no-tresspassing sign across the drive on string, and tacked up a letter explaining the farm was under new ownership and no one was allowed to hunt.
One other turn-off: do not cuss at the landowner when he says no for the second time, especially if he's carrying a deer rifle. It marks you as uncouth and a bit too stupid for polite company.